Good; or, How Not To Talk About God

On Campfire Shoutings at a Christian Shindig

I was in high school, sitting around a campfire recently lit in the woods at Camp Cherokee on the last night of our annual youth camp. The year was memorable: I had a crush on a pretty girl also in attendance and we spent time gallavanting about in fresh mud during a rainstorm and finding quiet moments before dinner to talk on creaky porch swings in front of the cafeteria, the band was particularly good and instrumental in my desire to play music better and more often than I was, and I had just turned 16, and was thus able to drive my recently purchased Jeep Cherokee as soon as I got back.

Life was good. God was good.

The pastor said a few words after our blindfolded hike up through the cricket-soaked darkness and suggested that we join voices in a week-wrapping cry. He'd issue the calls and we'd yell the responses, the only two qualifications to the experience being that we shout at the peak of our vocal attenuators and then remain absolutely silent after echoing the final phrase.

He bellowed: "God is good!"
We shouted: "All the time!"
He suggested: "All the time!"
We finished: "God is good!"

The noise moved audibly over the face of the still night waters some 45 feet below the overlook on which we were perched. Light from the fire flickered on the opposite shore. We sat still and without noise as the waves our sound made through the air reverberated down the channel of Lake Ocoee; I think I felt the girl's arm touch mine.

God was certainly good.

On Photos of Recently Acquired Good Things and Such

In the past two weeks alone, in my habitual perusings of the internet-based height of narcissism, I've seen at least ten photos and wordy spillings of recent lovely goings-on: job promotions, much-anticipated positive answers to prayer, fortunate outcomes of long nights studying for difficult tests, etc.

I've veritably felt the excitement bubbling through my screen. I feel deeply the joy and the sadness of the people around me, and the joy radiating from these faces and through their words brought warmth to my heart.

I read the epitaphs at the bottoms of their posts, as if they chimed in perfect, distance-and-internet-joined unison, "God is good."

On Car Rides Home With the Windows Down After Unbelievably Fortune-Laden Days

I've had a very good couple of weeks, if I'm being honest with you. In the span of roughly 20 or so days, talks with rather important people capable of not just altering, but changing for the better the course of my and my future wife's future have materialized seemingly out of nowhere. I've had spur-of-the-moment phone calls, "I'd like to talk to you"s from possible bosses, and opportunities to prove myself and my skills that have panned out quite extraordinarily well. More of them than I probably deserve; more most definitely than I imagined I'd get in such a short period of time.

I drove home tonight with an uncannily dry 70 degree Spring evening blowing through my freshly washed-and-waxed car's windows with only the sound of the wind, the smell of whatever the stuff rightness is made of in my sinuses, and the feeling that everything's going to be okay coursing through my gut.

I thought to myself, as I did in the channel-overlooking Cherokee fire pit, "My, God is good."

But For Some Reason, There's Still More To This Post

I sat down at my desk and realized that I was being unduly unfair to my Creator. Heretical, almost. I'd been dead wrong: swinging at the wrong ball on the wrong tee on the wrong field in Chattanooga when it was my turn to serve in Tennis in Austin, Texas.

Nowhere in these weeks have I posted an article about 33 Christians sentenced to death in North Korea and said, "God is good all the time; All the time, God is good." Never have I looked out at a homeless population preparing for another bitter snap of cold with nothing but the clothes they survived the winter with and a donated blanket and said, "God is good all the time; All the time, God is good." Nor have I been diagnosed in an untimely fashion with a disease that will kill me, been spat upon for my beliefs and threatened to have my family murdered, looked into the face of a 12-year old victim of sex trafficking, been broke enough to wonder where this week's food is coming from, or witnessed the rise of a dictator using the name of my God to propagate genocide and stood tall, proclaiming, "God is good all the time; All the time, God is good."

Why?

Perhaps it's because I(we)'ve confused Good with good feeling. And that is unbelievably dangerous.

1. It's ammunition: "If your God is so good, why is there suffering?"
2. It's doubt-fuel: "Where's your God in the thunderstorm?"
3. It's incredibly hard to defend: "Okay fine, God exists; but if anything, He's ambivalent. He's lost all hope in these pitiful humans."

So let's re-evaluate Good.

Good does not mean that I'll understand. Good does not mean that it'll work out the way you want. Good does not mean you got that new car.

The Misquotepocalypse

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." -Jer. 29:11

From a letter from Jeremiah to priests, prophets, and people Nebuchadnezzar had exiled to Babylon, even after the'd been promised a future in their homeland. Know what? That's not God promising you that you'll get that house you really, really want. Want to claim the promise? First claim the exile, then perhaps we'll talk.

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

Have we forgotten to read the beginning of the section? About how Paul's comparing the things of this present time (be it suffering or pleasure) to the glory that is to be revealed in the time to come? What if the Good God's working for you is to be stoned by your friends? Or to be hung upside down on a cross? Or to be pulled apart by horses? Would you still count it Good if you got nothing you wanted so that Christ's name could continue?

Are you still writing Phillipians 4:13 on your eyeblack before a football game?

Perhaps the more appropriate question to ask ourselves before we're talking about God being Good is this: "Has he told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8

Maybe we should be asked more often, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements - surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" - Job 38:4-7.

Could it be that we should endure the exile to "deserve" the promise? Should we know the bite of death to celebrate the freedom of life?

If I quit claiming the Goodness of God when things are swayed in my direction, perhaps I'd begin to be less focused on myself: as if the culmination of God's plan rests in me coming into some money. If I quit talking of the Goodness of God as if it's dependent on the temporary, perhaps when the difficult arises I'll be able to see that it's every bit as Good as the thing I enjoyed: for a Divine plan is multi-faceted and designed to bring into account every event, recorded and forgotten, to highlight the spectacular marvel of a perfect Creator.

It has hardly anything to do with the fact that your team won, but more to do with how you behave when it loses. It has hardly anything to do with the fact that you got a raise and almost all to do with what you do when you're robbed. It has hardly anything to do with the feeling of a summer fling brushing High School Junior elbows with you at a campfire and entirely everything to do with the reason you're shouting His Goodness in the first place; it's less about the warmth of the fire at your front and more about the grandeur of a roaring echo across the glassy, evergreen Ocoee canyon.

Hamilton Barber

The subject of this page is an introverted writer/musician/lunatic from Chattanooga, TN who dabbles in lexical dexterity, unorthodox thoughts on prosperity, and being overwhelmingly undeserving of the privilege of waking up every day. He hopes that everybody who reads these words takes them to heart and leaps higher than he ever could. He reads, thinks, and speaks too much; he listens, works, and loves too little; and he says “I” entirely too often. The words on these pages are not his: they are the words that were given to him.